Monday, September 21, 2015

Fall TV Predictions 2015: The Muppets Take the Nielsens



The "fall TV season" is a thing that still exists, technically, so as a TV blogger, it seemed important that I establish my cred by making predictions about it. However, I like to hedge my bets, so I've recruited my sister, Holly--a much more dedicated consumer of Nielsen ratings, who has been watching the networks for years longer than I have--to make predictions alongside me, so that I can take credit for her correct answers and disavow her incorrect ones.

Together, we've come up with 12 pressing questions about the 2015-16 season, and we've answered them. Let us tell you what to think about the newest TV.

(Warning: This post contains mild, already widely-publicized spoilers for the third season of Arrow. Also it's super fucking long.)




1.      The perennial question: Which new show will be first blood? (That is, which will be the first show that actually makes it to air to be cancelled?)

Madelyn: This is a little bit tricky, because the start of the fall season has spread out a lot in the past couple years. Shows used to premiere, as a general rule, from mid-September to early October. The gradual dissolution of the summer season/fall season/mid-season trichotomy, however, means that the 2015 fall premieres range from September 21 to November 17—meaning that first blood could, and probably will, be drawn before some of the season’s new shows have even aired.

Basically, I think it’s a three-way race between ABC’s Blood and Oil, CBS’ Life in Pieces, and NBC’s The Player. Blood and Oil is a production trainwreck: a high-profile mess that has undergone two title changes and one showrunner change since being announced, and currently has two writers rooms for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Life in Pieces is an incredibly atypical show for CBS, it doesn’t have much buzz, and CBS has a notoriously free hand with canceling underperforming comedies. The Player is way undermarketed—I haven’t seen a promo for it since June, I think, and I spent five hours rewatching old Community episodes on Hulu last week—and it’s airing after The Blacklist, which pulled in a dizzying 1.6 rating for its second season finale. The week before that, it tied for fifth place on its night with a rerun of The Big Bang Theory.

Now, my gut says that The Player is probably a better show than the other two—it was co-created by Leverage showrunner John Rogers, and I’ll never stop loving Leverage. But it has a worse lead-in and less marketing than Blood and Oil, while Life in Pieces has a solid—nay, superb—lead-in with The Big Bang Theory, and clearly has someone at CBS pulling for it. Plus Blood and Oil produced in-house, while The Player is not. So I’m going to say my first prediction is The Player.

Holly: This is a hard question this season. Last season was so refreshingly easy – I don’t think there was anyone who heard this question and didn’t think, Manhattan Love Story.  Part of the issue here is network priorities, time-slots, and the actual quality of the show, along with ratings, of course. It’s not particularly helpful that the television critics seem to hate, or at least feel “meh” about, almost all of the fall network pilots.

I’ve narrowed my options down to the following shows: Blood and Oil, Quantico, Code Black, Life in Pieces, and The Player.  Most of these shows have something incredibly bad going for them, and other shows that seem DOA (Angel from Hell, Wicked City, ahem) aren’t premiering until much later in the season, making them poor choices for First Blood.

Blood and Oil is in a terrible time-slot.  I expect its lead in, Once Upon a Time, to be much weaker in the ratings this fall without the Frozen storyline bump. It’s also an aging show and no one seemed that thrilled with the back half of its season last year. Not to mention that after its second episode, it’s stuck going up against a little show called The Walking Dead. Plus have you heard about the insane behind-the-scenes stuff happening on that show? Not a great sign, plus the critics have not been kind to it.

But Blood and Oil has some things in its favor. I doubt ABC is going to want to immediately revamp Sundays by canceling it early, and it’s shown an odd commitment to a show that has had so many production problems. I don’t see Blood and Oil lasting an entire season, but I don’t see it being First Blood either. Frankly, I’m surprised it wasn’t pre-cancelled, but now that ABC has committed to it and committed to that Sunday line-up, I think it stays until at least mid-season.

Quantico is a similar story. It’s stuck in a timeslot that has destroyed many an ABC show and it’s behind Blood and Oil, which is not a great place to be if you, like I do, assume that Blood and Oil will be pulling low 1.0s in the demo by Week 3. With that said, Quantico has slightly better buzz than Blood and Oil, and they have Prinyanka Chopra with her eleven million Twitter followers. (Although, since she is a Bollywood star, I wonder how many of those followers are US based, as only US viewers count for Nielsens.  Doesn’t do Quantico that much good to be a highly streamed international show.) Still, I think ABC wants Quantico to work. It’s on brand for them, it continues their commitment to diversity, and the critics seem to think it’s kind of fun, if not Emmy-worthy stuff. It’s just a bad time-slot, and I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been better served by the Wednesday 10 p.m. slot.  This is a show I think ABC will keep around for the season, even if the ratings would seem to dictate otherwise, and they may even give it a time-slot upgrade if it appears Blood and Oil is going to kill it. It also wouldn’t shock me if Quantico’s ratings come in relatively high, or at least higher than Blood and Oil. It should also be noted that both Blood and Oil and Quantico are at least partially in-house shows. Not First Blood. 

I see many an internet commentator pulling for Code Black as First Blood. I think the rationale is that it’s an ER rehash behind a waning Criminal Minds, and it’s an easy pull for replacement with the Criminal Minds spinoff.  I disagree. First of all, the stupid trailer for Code Black made me cry. The trailer.  There’s an audience for medical shows and while it’s not necessarily on-brand for CBS, it has a solid cast, a solid trailer, and no negative buzz. In fact, it’s kind of buzz-less, which is often the case for CBS shows that end up performing solidly, if not spectacularly. I don’t know if Code Black makes it past 13 episodes (I could honestly see it running 13 episodes or 13 seasons), but I think it lasts until at least mid-season, making it a poor choice for First Blood, especially as CBS is one of the production companies involved.

Here’s my real dilemma. Life in Pieces or The PlayerLife in Pieces has some real problems. First, the critics don’t love it – the most common complaint I’ve seen is that it is essentially a Modern Family re-hash for which no one was asking. Secondly, the trailers have not been particularly compelling or funny. Third, it’s a show that screams, “HOW DID THIS AMAZING CAST GET STUCK ON THIS?” It doesn’t seem particularly fitted with its Big Bang Theory lead-in and it’s not a CBS production. And we all know how well single camera comedies have worked in the past on CBS. 

Of course, Life in Pieces has some upsides. The biggest is that it has The Big Bang Theory as a lead-in, although Monday’s TBBT is not as good as Thursday’s TBBT. It’s also clearly something CBS wants to work and has a champion inside the network. CBS has old shows. That’s not a joke about the audience’s age. It has shows that are long in the tooth in the production process.  The only new comedy it picked up from last year is The Odd Couple, which wasn’t exactly a home run in the ratings race. The network’s dramas and comedies are aging and it needs to find some replacements as old stalwarts stall out in the ratings or become unbearably expensive. CBS also seems to recognize that it has had a hard time finding new hits, and has clearly pivoted in its strategy by trying some ideas that are just a tiny bit off-brand, and Life In Pieces is one of those. Part of the question is whether this strategy was led by the outgoing Nina Tassler, or whether her replacement was championing these changes. Another part of the equation is simply that CBS may want to try to pivot, but if it looks like it’s going poorly for them, will they do a quick retreat and return to the safety of declining, but still solid, standbys based on their old formula? CBS also has a face-saving issue. It’s not a network that likes to pull things in a splashy manner and First Blood is always splashy.  The last time it had First Blood it was a Friday night show no one remembered existed. But, let’s never forget that The Millers – a sophomore show – died behind TBBT on Monday nights within the first month of the fall season. Also, Life in Pieces easy to replace. CBS is well aware that throwing a TBBT repeat on behind a TBBT original will often lead to better ratings than another original episode of another comedy.

The Player is just a bit of a mess. It hasn’t been promoted particularly well. The trailers are hard to follow and don’t really speak to what the show will be. It’s behind The Blacklist on Thursdays, a move that pretty much killed NBC’s golden goose of a drama. It looks expensive to make. It’s not in-house, although it is Sony. In the past, Sony has managed to save many of its struggling shows, but it’s not clear that Sony still wields that level of power. Buzz is low and I honestly forgot it existed until I started writing this. Also, it’s on NBC, and it’s stuck going up against NFL football on CBS. It seems ripe for an ignominious Ironside-style yank from the lineup, although it’s unclear what NBC would have to immediately replace it.

This comes down to my gut, and my gut says Life In Pieces is First Blood. My dark horse here actually isn’t The Player. It’s Dr. Ken. ABC has had First Blood two years running, and I don’t think it’s afraid to cut shows that just aren’t working, particularly when they are shows that the network is less committed to. I’m pretty sure Dr. Ken is going to be terrible. It’s premiering a week later than Life in Pieces, which gives it some space, and Last Man Standing requires a sitcom pairing, but there’s no reason that pairing couldn’t be with repeats of another, more successful, sitcom. Though my gut says Life in Pieces, I won’t be knocked over with a feather if it’s Dr. Ken.


2. The Muppets is probably the new show with the most awareness among casual viewers. What kind of ratings will The Muppets get in its first week? Its second? Its thirteenth?

Madelyn: ABC clearly believes in The Muppets—it’s promoting the hell out of it—and it’s one of the first new shows to air, with a September 22 series premiere. That means that The Muppets pilot is airing with very little competition, and almost everyone’s heard about it, so it’s hard to imagine it not getting at least pretty good ratings in its first week. After that, I think it depends on how good it is. The Muppets is too weird a show to be both bad and widely watched.

Holly: So, here’s the thing about The Muppets. It was announced to great fanfare at the upfronts this year. Everyone was excited. The buzz was great, the trailer was lauded, and everyone seemed thrilled. A bit of that shine has worn off.  I’ve only seen one critic that likes the show’s full pilot. A lot of critics seemed to get annoyed at the endless PR and marketing releases talking about Kermit and Miss Piggy as if they were real celebrities, and not, you know, puppets. One Million Moms is on some sort of rampage about it.

And here’s thing. I have no idea if this show will work long-term. I’m not sure how much audience appetite there is for adult Muppets on a weekly basis for 13 episodes a season. I don’t know if the critics are right and the show is not particularly good, and I don’t know if, as is the case with so many early episodes of comedies, the show will get better as it goes along.

Here’s the other thing. I most sincerely doubt any of this matters for the first episode. People are curious and the brand recognition is off the charts. Reporters have done the show’s work for them in reporting breathlessly on the PR releases about Kermit and Miss Piggy’s relationship. Even if some feel fatigue with the press, you know this show exists and that’s at least half the battle in the current crowded television market. I predict big ratings for the pilot. High 3.0’s in the demo, possibly even into the low 4.0’s. What happens after that is the real question.

It’s not going to be Empire or The Walking Dead. I doubt the demo will go up in the 2nd week, but I doubt it will crash and burn. By episode two, I’m thinking it will settle comfortably into low 3.0s to mid-3.0s in the demo. The truly interesting question is where it is by mid-season. It’s very hard to guess without knowing where the show will go creatively, but I’m not feeling terribly optimistic. The Muppets strikes me as a novelty show—you tune in for a couple of weeks, say “Aw, the Muppets!” and then move on with your life. In a 13 episode season, you don’t expect the numbers to crash hard. The Muppets won’t have to live through the spring doldrums. With that said, I won’t be surprised to see the demo in the high 1.0s by the time of its season finale. A Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.-like trajectory, if you will.


3. Excluding the CW, and excluding sports, which network will get the lowest average ratings in the 2015-16 season?

Holly: I’m going with FOX. It’s tempting to pick NBC, just because it’s NBC, and good lord have you seen their line-up lately? But The Voice is still a force to be reckoned with, even if its trend is downward, and it tends to prop up the shows behind it. Plus NBC’s All-Dick Wolf, All-Chicago, All The Time dramas are fairly solid. Even The Blacklist, which took a major hit when it was moved to Thursdays, is still a moderate ratings success. And as much as I expect Heroes to bomb eventually, there could be a decent number of lookie-loos for it for the first week or two.

Fox has a lot of problems. Sure, it has Empire, and on a network that only programs regularly for two hours a night, Empire can help swing the numbers proportionately more than an NBC hit can. With that said, Fox has a lot of problems. Animated comedies were down across the board last season and I can see any reason for them to particularly rally this season. Gotham trended downward all season and no one seemed to like it much. It wasn’t critically beloved or viewer beloved. The people watching it seemed to almost be doing so grudgingly. I don’t expect it to get out of the very low 2.0s, high 1.0s for much of the season, making it a poor launchpad for Minority Report. Minority Report has brand name recognition, but not stellar reviews and seems surprisingly low-buzz and is up against relatively strong competition from the other networks. Its midseason replacement is Lucifer, which is a disaster waiting to happen if I ever saw one. The X-Files seems like a hit waiting to happen, but I expect a 24-style reboot of a hit, not an Empire-sized hit, and it’s limited anyway. Grandfathered and The Grinder have a lot of support in the critic community and had solid trailers, but Fox has always struggled with Tuesday comedies. Scream Queens seems utterly destined to be a success, but it’s also only thirteen episodes, I believe? Its midseason replacements of New Girl (a show with a downward trend if I ever saw one) and The Guide to Surviving Life (meh) don’t look particularly promising. It’s hard to see Rosewood becoming a runaway hit (honestly, I considered Rosewood for First Blood, but I couldn’t figure out what in the world Fox would replace it with.) Its midseason replacement, American Idol, is falling apart at the seams. Bones is a very old show that wasn’t doing gangbusters in the ratings last year when it wasn’t stuck on Thursdays at 8 p.m. Sleepy Hollow took a hit in the ratings and by the TV critics, and the fans also became increasingly disenchanted with it last season.

So, Fox. I’m going with Fox. Although I won’t die of shock or anything if it’s NBC. My official prediction, worst to best, is Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS.

Madelyn: NBC.


4. Empire was the surprise hit of last year, with ratings that, very unusually for modern TV, rose week-to-week. What do its ratings look like in its second season?

Madelyn: Well, they can hardly go up. I have to admit that I haven’t yet watched Empire, which makes this a little difficult to predict—some shows, you can sort of guess from their first season how well they’re going to hold together in their second. But judging just from ratings and word-of-mouth, it’s going to have a great premiere—probably somewhere in the range of a 5.0 rating, at least. (It could easily be higher.) I can’t imagine it repeating its first season feat of going up in the ratings week-to-week, though, if only because at a certain point it’ll max out. (It’s also facing slightly increased timeslot competition, now that it’s not airing in midseason, but I don’t know that SVU and Modern Family are going to draw off all that much.) If critical reception remains positive, it could hold in the high 4s. But it could also hit a sophomore slump, and cool off into the 3s as the season progresses. I’m particularly fascinated to see what happens, because I think Empire has a massively unusual amount of critical and commercial capital. It has the viewers; now it just needs to know what to do with them.

Holly: High. I’m not sure it’s a show that has hit its peak yet. I don’t expect it to be knocking at The Walking Dead’s door in terms of the demo, but I wouldn’t die of shock to see it in the low 7.0s for its premiere.  I expect it to stay between high 4.0s and low to mid 5.0s in the demo for most of its season. I don’t think this is a one season wonder. The critics who have seen the first couple of episodes of the new season say the quality is on part with last season and this is a show that seems to have touched the core of a sizeable audience. Zeitgeist away, Cookie! (I do not watch this show, but I have noticed that making Cookie references is de rigueur when writing about it.)


5. Arrow had a moment of great critical and commercial appeal in its second season, but faced a lot of backlash for the decisions it made last year. Can Arrow fix the many, many problems that ran rampant through its third season?

Madelyn: It can, but I doubt that it will. I’m going to go ahead and admit that I stopped watching Arrow shortly after Sara died, so I didn’t see Laurel’s progression from the worst thing on television to (from what I hear) the best thing on Arrow. Nevertheless, the fact that by the end of season three, Laurel was one of the best things on Arrow rather speaks for itself. The problems with Arrow, as I understand it, included nonsensical plotting, a severe decrease in the awesome of several of the best characters, and sneakily ill treatment of the show’s women. Arrow has had all of these problems in greater or lesser degree since it started, but my understanding is that they hit a head in season three.

Now, Arrow has a new, female co-showrunner in Wendy Mericle. My sister will, I’m sure, tell you that Mericle is going to turn things around, and there’s a chance she’s right. Mericle has written a number of good Arrow episodes, including one of my personal favorites, season two’s “Time of Death.” Having a woman at the head of the show probably can’t make it more sexist, and there’s a chance that Mericle can course-correct the show’s other problems.

But as refreshingly good as the season four promo looks, I can’t help but remember that season three’s promo looked good. I’m burned on Arrow, and it’ll take a lot to convince me that it’s going to change.

That said, if Arrow makes Constantine canonically bisexual while he’s in town resurrecting Sara Lance, I will forgive it for literally everything.

Holly: Yes. It can. Will it? I do not know. I hope it will. I want it to. I need some justification for continuing to watch this show. Arrow had a lot of problems last year. A badly defined villain in Ras al Ghul. Plots by Malcolm Merlyn that weren’t insane in an “I’m An Evil Genius” way, but in a “This Plan Literally Makes No Sense and is So Convoluted You Must Have Multiple Spreadsheets Detailing it Somewhere” way.  Killing Sara Lance, one of their most interesting characters, pretty clearly just so Laurel could become Black Canary, something that could have been accomplished in literally a dozen other ways. Meaningless sub-plots. Turning Diggle’s major plot point into being an Olicity shipper. A lack of focus on Team Arrow, something that many fans agreed was the best part of the show. A seeming inability to write for any more than one of their three main female characters at any given time. (Laurel improved last year, particularly in the back half of the season, while Thea was written so poorly that all of her decisions, motives and emotions seemed like they came out of left field, and fan-favorite Felicity spent most of the season relegated to alternately crying, making goo-goo eyes at Ray Palmer, and having dramatic confrontations with Oliver that went nowhere.) Utterly pointless flashbacks! Characters were forced to make insane decisions that made no sense for their characters because the plot demanded it be so.  Laurel and Captain Lance had the same conversation approximately 10,000 times. And, in the end, it turned out that mostly they were just cribbing off of The Dark Knight Rises.

But I think Arrow can turn it around.  For one thing, they’ve hired a female co-showrunner, Wendy Mericle. I’m hoping she can pull back on some of Marc Guggenheim’s worst tendencies, which include dropping plotlines and sub-plots when there is a brand-new shiny toy (Arrow boxing glove!) or character (Ray Palmer! The ATOM! Cupid! Ted Grant!) to play with for a while, and writing women really, really poorly, and having characters act completely outside their established character for plot reasons, and thinking Will They/Won’t They relationships are the epitome of romantic love on a superhero show.

Hopefully Mericle will give a better voice to the women and help keep track of the overall plot and theme for the season. Felicity and Oliver seem to be a couple now, and that’s good. I don’t really care if they are together or not together, but the back and forth was driving everyone up the wall. Maybe if they are together, then the sole focus won’t be on their relationship, and Felicity can get back to being funny, tech-savvy, and having plotlines that aren’t solely related to her romantic love interests. We are no longer going to be forced to watch Laurel drag everyone into her insane scheme to lie to her father about Sara’s death. SARA IS ALIVE AND IT’S THANKS TO CONSTANTINE. The show seems to have picked a big bad to introduce early and to keep its focus on throughout the season. Promotional pictures seem to indicate there will be significant Team Arrow action.

I’m not too thrilled that the flashbacks are still in play and that Malcolm appears to still be a regular, but I cling to hope.

I believe this is a show that can be fixed. I don’t think it will ever be a great show, but the potential to return to its solid second season quality seems within reach.


6. 2015-16 is the year of reboots. How will they stack up against each other, ratings-wise?

Madelyn: The X-Files > Heroes: Reborn premiere > Prison Break > Twin Peaks > Heroes: Reborn finale.

Holly: This is hard, in part, because remembering all the reboots in play is hard, given how many of them there are. Also, like, what do we count as “this year”? The 2015-2016 season, I suppose, but the Prison Break reboot has been announced for “2016”, so does it count, or not? And Twin Peaks is 2017, I think? And I guess I can’t count Fuller House because Netflix’s ratings are a state secret. And I guess we’re only counting TV-to0TV reboots, and not movies rebooted for television, like Minority Report, Limitless, Uncle Buck and Rush Hour.

With that said, in order of ratings, best to worst: The X-Files, Heroes Reborn’s first episode, Twin Peaks, Prison Break, Heroes Reborn’s last episode.


7. The Walking Dead has been a ratings behemoth for much of its run.  Even more interestingly, TWD is the rarest of phenomena: a show that has increased in the demo year to year every season that it has been on. It’s impossible for a television show to do that forever, but TWD has done it for all of it first five seasons. Going into season six, that leads us to this question: Is this the year that The Walking Dead has year-to-year declines in same-day ratings?

Madelyn: I’ll repeat what I said with Empire: It can hardly have increases. Well, I mean, it can, but The Walking Dead is already pulling in numbers on par with what Lost did in its first season, and the reality is that in this day and age, there’s a limit to how high you can go in live + SD ratings. (Empire has more room in that regard, and I’d be much more likely to bet that it would increase year-to-year, rather than TWD.) TWD’s viewership increases are slowing down—the average viewership of each episode only increased by about a million between seasons four and five—and presumably, pretty soon, its viewership will either peak or decline.

Is this the year of decline? I don’t think so. I think this is the year that it stalls, and next year is the year it declines. A segment (I think it’s a small one, at the moment) of The Walking Dead’s viewers are becoming dissatisfied with the show; if it continues to tell the same story over and over, that segment’s going to become larger. Cultural phenomena have shelf-lives. The Walking Dead just hasn’t quite reached its yet. 


Holly: Every year, I think the answer to this question is yes, and every year, I’m wrong. BUT I’M BOUND TO BE RIGHT EVENTUALLY. Everything in me says this is the year it happens. Zombie fatigue seems to be setting in across the board. Fear the Walking Dead’s ratings clearly haven’t been as high as AMC was hoping, although they are still strong given that it is AMC. Still, the downward trend week-to-week cannot be a hopeful sign for AMC, given the promotional push and the strong branding associated with the spinoff. The second episode was down 19% from the premiere and the third episode was down another 12%.  How much this correlates to a lack of interest in TWD is up in the air. They are obviously two very different shows, even if they share a name.

Still, TWD has to hit a peak sometime, and this year seems as good a time as any. It’s in its sixth season, which is a long time for any show to maintain the kind of ratings TWD has gotten. It was only up 6% year-to-year in Spring 2015, versus 24% in Fall 2013, 20% in Spring 2014, and 13% in Fall 2014. At some point you have to figure the audience that will watch it has already found it. In addition, every year more and more young viewers switch to other forms of watching the show. TWD avoided these less-than-legal methods for years based on the The Event factor.  No one wanted to be spoiled about big deaths, but some of that impetus seems to have waned, as the Shocking Big Deaths seem to have been spoiled or forecasted far in advance. There also seems to be a fatigue with the nihilism of the show. At some point, you simply get tired of watching people walk in circles and get killed off.

On the other hand, TWD is a juggernaut that continues to surprise in terms of ratings. Every time it appears to have hit its peak, it does something crazy and beats Sunday Night Football. Also—mild spoilers ahead—it appears that much of this season will hew closely to the comics, which could be an advantage; the comics fans love it when the show stays within the broad confines of the comics, and there are some iconic characters and scenes that should make for big set-piece episodes. On the other hand, I think anyone who watches TWD knows that sometimes the show does its best when it deviates from the course set out for it in the comics. After all, not everything that works on the page will work on the screen and vice versa, and frankly, it doesn’t appear that the majority of the viewership has read the comic books.

And for as much flack as the show has taken from some critics for its writing, its characters, its plotting, its inability to stop showing the same three goddamn miles of Georgian woods, critical reviews have never helped or hurt this show. Even what I personally view as incredibly legitimate complaints about how the show treats its female characters and its PoC characters has seemed to slide so easily off the shows back that the creators honestly seemed taken by surprise when it was brought up with them by interviewers.

I stopped watching TWD after “What Happened and What’s Going On,” and honestly it was a relief in many ways. (I have a hard time giving up shows, even when I no longer like them that much. See: Arrow, above.) But for every person like me, there’s someone like my mother who caught up last season and seems to think the show still has a depth I just don’t see, and seems to enjoy the grimness and nihilism.

Still, I think this is the year we don’t see any further gains. I just don’t think there are enough new viewers for it to gain again. I call it down slightly or even year-to-year by the end of its sixth season. Call me an optimist.


8. Last year, TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday) was a phenomenon. ABC branded the All-Shonda, All The Time block of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder incredibly well, and the line-up put fear into other networks’ hearts. But Scandal showed some serious and surprising weakness in its Spring season, and How to Get Away With Murder was loved primarily for its lead actress, and not for its plot or writing, while Grey’s Anatomy killed off its long-term male lead. So, now, what do TGIT ratings look like for the 2015-2016 season, particularly in the fall?

Madelyn: Low 3s for the premieres; mid-to-high 2s thereafter, trending more toward “mid” as the season progresses. Grey’s and Scandal eventually drop to low 2s, while How to Get Away with Murder holds to mid 2s, barring a complete creative breakdown.

Holly: Not good. Grey’s Anatomy did exceedingly well in making the move to Thursday at 8 p.m. last year, but it’s been on forever, and viewers seemed unhappy with killing off Patrick Dempsey. Scandal faced a rough year last year. Perhaps most worrisome was that its declines seemed more “Outright Viewer Rejection” by its base viewership and less “Gentle Decline That Comes With Age.” People just didn’t seem to like what Scandal was selling last season, and those viewers are hard to win back, no matter how many course corrections and BIG TWISTS one adds. Only being down 6% year to year somewhat masks exactly how bad the drop was. It opened last season with a 3.8 and the season finale was down to a 2.2. That’s not spring doldrums or a bit of an aging fall in the ratings. That’s a serious rejection, especially for a show that tends to live and die by Event Episodes, particularly premieres and finales. The premiere may hit a 3.0 in the demo, but I expect much of the fall will be stuck in the low to mid 2.0s, and the spring will see the beginning of those dreaded 1.0s, although they should stay high in the 1.0s. How to Get Away with Murder was highly promoted, and the entire idea of a Shonda night made a lot of sense in helping all of the shows. Unfortunately, as much as everyone loved Viola Davis and several of the powerful moments on the show, most seemed to agree the show itself was not great. It started in the high 3.0s and was down to a 2.8 by its finale, after a string of high 2.0s in the demo. It’s also possible that it’s a show that is strongly dependent on its lead-in, and since I’m not high on Scandal’s ratings, you can see my concern. I’m guessing we’re looking at high 2.0s for its premiere and down to low 2.0s to high 1.0s by the end of its season, although perhaps Viola Davis’ Emmy win will propel the show higher than it would have otherwise. Also, I love you Viola.

This is still a strong and congruous night of television. It’s a great block for ABC, and it’s the most female-friendly block on that night. That said, I don’t think everyone is going to be talking about this block as juggernaut the way they were last year. I think it will continue to slip, and I’m even more concerned after The Catch comes on the scene, especially given the massive production problems that show has already experienced, including a change in showrunner and two of its leads being re-cast.


9. It’s all subjective, baby. Sight unseen, what do we think will be the best new show? What about the worst? Here, we’re speaking creatively, rather than ratings.

Madelyn: This is the game we like to call, “Guess which TV critics I’m going to disagree with.” Worst new show seems like a toss-up between Truth Be Told and Dr. Ken, so I guess I’m going to go with Truth Be Told out of lingering loyalty to Ken Jeong. (I guess it could also be one of the dramas that are falling apart behind the scenes—Blood and Oil, The Catch, and Chicago Med—but it’s hard to tell how much the production chaos will affect the on-screen product.)

But who cares about the worst new show? If I’m wrong about that, I just get to be pleasantly surprised. Best new show predictions are where reputations are made! Which is silly, because trailers can often signal a bad show, but predicting what’s going to be good is basically rolling dice. Anyway, I think there are four strong contenders: The Muppets, Scream Queens, Grandfathered, and The Grinder. The last two have gotten reasonably positive responses from critics, and I’d be tempted to pick The Grinder outright if it hadn’t just lost its showrunner. Scream Queens is a Ryan Murphy show in its first season, which usually means it’ll be flawed but fascinating, and almost certainly means it’ll be enjoyable. The Muppets, honestly, is just gut instinct. I didn’t love the trailer, I’m not even a huge Muppets fan, but something in me just really loves the concept and the marketing strategy, even while I recognize how gimmicky it is. You know what? Fuck it. I’m going with The Muppets.

(It’s probably going to be The Grinder, though.)



Holly: So, I’m only going to count the fall shows here. We’re just too far out from midseason and there’s way too little information for me to include those shows in this calculation. Here’s the problem. No one seems to like any of the new shows. Seriously. Read the Twitter feeds of the major television critics. They are not amused. They are not happy. They are not moved. They are very, very meh.

Some I can toss out off the bat. None of the critics seem to like The Muppets much, so that’s a show that if it becomes good, it’s going to take a while. Quantico may be fun, but it’s definitely not going to be “good television” in the traditional sense. Still, neither seems in the running for “worst.”

Rosewood seems like a very Fox procedural show. If you like Bones, I’m guessing you’ll like Rosewood; however, I doubt it will make for anything really great. I like the diversity of the leads, but I don’t think I’ll be enraptured by another procedural based off of Kooky Male Lead Who Gets the Job Done versus By the Book Female cop. I’ve seen that a few too many times already. Actually, Rosewood reminds me in its trailers of nothing so much as The Glades, which was inoffensive in its blahness. Again, can’t see it as the best or the worst.

Minority Report probably isn’t going to be great. The chemistry of the leads seems off in the promotional materials. I usually like Meghan Goode, but even she can’t save a lot of the terrible shows she gets stuck on. With that said, I’m again seeing A Very Fox Procedural, This Time Based on a Movie!, which probably means it won’t be good, but it won’t be terrible.

Nothing about The Player looks very good. It’s made by the guy who did Leverage, so I’m not completely without hope, but also I think it will be cancelled relatively quickly. That said, it strikes me as a “gets better as it goes on” show if there ever was one, so. No. Plus, it fridges the guy’s wife from the first episode and I’m over that particular phenomenon. Still, probably won’t be the worst new entry.

I expect Blindspot to be pretty awful, if I’m being honest. Great lead actress, but the show itself looks reductive and something we’ve seen before over and over. Still probably not the worst.

I am personally excited about Code Black, because I love the cast, the promo made me cry (SHUT UP), and I’ve been sort of jonesing for a new medical drama to store on my DVR and watch on Saturdays. I grew up on ER. I miss ER. Grey’s Anatomy is decidedly not ER’s spiritual successor. I’m hoping Code Black will be.

A lot of people are excited about Supergirl, but I have my reservations. Melissa Benoist and Mehcad Brooks are charming and have lovely chemistry. Unfortunately, they seem determined to hook Supergirl up with Jeremy Jordan, and Benoist and Jordan’s chemistry is somewhat lacking. Plus, I saw that Calista Flockhart rant about being called a girl. I’m not on board with that. Supergirl is going to have to ride a line between case of the week and an overall mythology, something that isn’t easy to do and that its spiritual predecessors have struggled with in the past, and they are on The CW, which is much less demanding about procedural elements. It’s also going to have to try to overcome its own meta feelings about female superheroes. I feel like there’s a good show just waiting to come out, but at this point it could go either way, and any way about it, it’s going to have to grow into it.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of those shows that I just have no idea. It might be hilarious. It might be awful. Talk to me six weeks in, because I just have no idea.

That said, I’m guessing the best new show will come from Fox.  I know. I’m scared too. Hold me. They have three options that all look solid. Grandfathered, which has a great ensemble led by the always-charming John Stamos and which actually made me laugh in the promos. The Grinder, which has Rob freaking Lowe and Fred freaking Savage, and seems like it may be funny, even if I personally will probably roll my eyes out of my head with the TV law on display. And Scream Queens, which is a Ryan Murphy show, so it will without question be fun and good for one season before it all goes to hell. My pick? Scream Queens. Ryan Murphy is notorious for having terrific first seasons, the buzz is strong, and the cast is amazing, except I have no idea what Murphy’s obsession with Emma Roberts is, because she’s the worst. But, that said, it sounds like it’s the perfect role for her.

Worst new show? This is also tough. Chicago Med has had so many behind the scenes problems, it’s hard to imagine it won’t suffer for it. But Dick Wolf is a brand unto himself, and it’s hard to imagine it will go that far off the rails. Blood and Oil also seems a good pick based on behind the scenes problems (did I mention it has TWO writer’s rooms?) and the fact that it’s about a couple who goes to an oil boom town to open a Laundromat (????). Also, I was not wowed by the cast in promotional materials. From what I’ve heard about Wicked City, I’m not hopeful on that front. I’m very worried it’s The Following 2.0, and I’m pretty done with the genre of television that is about women being murdered and assaulted, unless it’s done well, which it very rarely is.

But let’s be real. We all know what the worst new fall show is going to be, and it’s Dr. Ken. Nothing about that show is going to work, and that’s no secret. I expect Blood and Oil to run a close second.


10. NBC is a mess of a network. This is almost an axiom of television at this point. It is the Britta of network television, a joke that NBC executives would not get. It was technically first in the demo last year, but only because it aired the Super Bowl. It’s a network living on the fumes of Sunday Night Football, a singing reality show, and Dick Wolf.  NBC does not air the Super Bowl this year, but does NBC have any saving graces that it can look forward to?

Madelyn: It hopes it has one in either Blindspot or Heroes Reborn. It’s definitely wrong about the latter, and probably wrong about the former—though if NBC is smart and doesn’t move it off its The Voice lead-in, Blindspot could do decent numbers for them for several years, at least.

Holly: Oh, NBC. Remember when you had Must See TV? Meeeemories. NBC’s only saving grace this season will likely be The Voice, which is down in numbers but hardly suffering in the overall scheme of things, and things that do well because they are placed after The Voice, like Blindspot and Chicago Med. Wednesdays are a hilarious disaster of a show that should never have been renewed (Mysteries of Laura), an aging procedural that mostly still exists because it is in house and gets good syndication money (Law & Order: SVU) and Chicago PD, which is a show that exists and gets little help from its lead-ins, but does have the virtue of having been smart enough to hire the lovely Sophia Bush. I expect Heroes Rebooted to start off strong and then quickly sag and limp to an ignominious finish on Thursdays, to be followed by a falling Blacklist and a DOA The Player. Comedies on Friday are hopeless. Grimm always brings in decent, if not spectacular numbers. Same for Dateline. NPH’s Best Time Ever has already shown it’s not going to be breaking any ratings records. NBC should pray that Sunday Night Football somehow gets extended into May. Oh, NBC. You make me sad.


11. For years, CBS has coasted along while its competitors have struggled with the reality of television in the internet, Peak TV, Amazon/Netflix age. It is only recently that CBS has begun to show any weakness, as its shows age and it has trouble launching new hits. Is this the year CBS finally takes a dive?

Madelyn: No. Not a big one, anyway. Some of its old standbys are aging, and will likely dip, but CBS actually isn’t hurting for fresh blood. It’s got Supergirl and Code Black, both of which will at least be given a chance by both viewers and critics, and it’s spreading its comedy wings with Life in Pieces and Angel from Hell, both atypical comedies for CBS. (They’re both single-cams. Do you know the last time CBS had two single-cams in one season? 2008. Before that it was like the 90s or something.) Not all of those shows are going to connect—even if Life in Pieces surprises, I’d lay money on an early cancelation for Angel from Hell, though it pains me to do that to Maggie Lawson and Jane Lynch—but one or two of them almost certainly will. And hell, maybe people will even watch Limitless. (Probably not, though.)

Holly: I expect this to be a bad year for CBS by CBS terms, but not a terrible year. I expect it will win the season thanks to the Super Bowl, and even removing sports, I expect it to be #1 or #2 for the year. That said, CBS has a real problem moving forward, and I think it knows it. Many of its shows are starting to lose their punch in the ratings as they go on. Person of Interest and Elementary have never done gangbusters for the network. The NCIS trio is starting to decline. CSI Cyber was a puzzling pick-up, unless you figure international numbers come in somewhere. Criminal Minds—a stalwart, and strongly rated—is posting declines. Sunday has always been a mess. It’s unclear why Madam Secretary and The Odd Couple got the nods for another season. Hawaii Five-0, The Good Wife, The Amazing Race—all old, and all down across the board. It’s hard to see how much longer some of their comedies can last. The Big Bang Theory was down sharply last year, as was 2 Broke Girls. The lineup has some highlights—Scorpion, Mike and Molly, and Blue Bloods, interestingly enough—but CBS needs some new hits, which probably explains some of its slightly off-brand pickups for this season. Supergirl, Limitless, Code Black, Life in Pieces, and Angel from Hell all seem like a network looking for something new that will boost their numbers and generate some buzz. With that said, CBS needs something new to work this season, or the next few years are going to start to look awfully bleak.


12. The CW is an interesting network, doing interesting things. For people who still think of it as a Teen Girl network, uh… you might want to hop over to The CW and see what it’s doing Monday through Wednesday. With that said, The CW clearly lives by metrics other than traditional ratings. Still, ratings matter and The CW is regularly at the bottom of the network heap. Yet, in many ways, it has withstood the Peak TV/internet/alternative streaming freefall of networks better than more traditional networks like Fox and NBC, even if its numbers are lower in the ratings. What do the CW’s ratings look like this year, across their shows and compared to other networks?

Madelyn: Let’s start with the easy stuff. Jane the Virgin tops out at around a .6, as does iZombie. (The move to fall season won’t change iZombie’s numbers; it did .6s leading out of network heavy-hitter The Flash last spring, and I don’t see any reason why that should change in the fall.) Supernatural seems to do .9s no matter how old it gets, and Reign’s not going to improve on its .4s. The Originals earned .5s last season, and although it’s been moved to a new timeslot for this season, my basic theory about CW shows is that other than crossover successes—The Flash, Arrow—whose viewership may fluctuate based on timeslot competition, they pretty much have the audience they have. Almost all CW shows are cult shows, and cult shows have dedicated viewers who will follow them from timeslot to timeslot.

The interesting shows on the CW, ratings-wise, are The Flash, Arrow, The Vampire Diaries, and newcomer Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The Flash pulled in ratings as high as 1.6 last year—decent for most networks, and insanely good for the CW. Fatigue doesn’t seem to have set in yet, so we can probably expect ratings above a 1.0, there.

Meanwhile, Arrow apparently got swept up by shared-universe fervor, because even as fans soured on the show’s storylines, its ratings shot into the .9s and above in spring 2015. I don’t know whether that will continue, now that the third season’s wrapped up, but it’s not completely unlikely. The widely-publicized resurrection of Sara Lance will likely create a ratings spike in the episode where it happens, at the very least. Expect ratings around .2 - .3 points under whatever The Flash does.

The Vampire Diaries was hovering in the .6/.7 territory, last season, but the loss of star Nina Dobrev has the potential to shake things up—probably not for the better. TVD has been on the downslide for a while now, and although dedicated fans will likely at least give it a chance, I would imagine that ratings will slip into the .4 territory somewhere in the course of this season.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the only new fall premiere on the CW, and thus something of a wildcard. The CW has paired it with Jane the Virgin on Mondays, which is a totally sensible strategy; they’re trying to create a quirky dramedy block. Of course, that likely means that Jane the Virgin’s maximum rating of .6 is the highest that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend can hope for as well. Unless it connects strongly with the critics, I doubt it’ll reach even that high. Todd Van Der Werff is stanning for it, but he also stanned for Community, which… actually, lasted like three times as long as makes any sense. Fuck it, I’m just gonna call it: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend tops out at .5, averages at .4, but gets the second-season pick-up anyway. The CW hates cancelling shows, and it’s already going to be axing Reign, Beauty and the Beast, and probably The Vampire Diaries this year.

As for the comparison to other networks, with its top shows only getting low-1.0s, the CW can’t hope to overtake Fox or NBC… yet. And they’ll probably never reach Fox’s average as long as it has Empire. But one of these years, The Voice is going to stop working for NBC, and then they’ll see. Then they’ll all see.

Holly: The CW is so interesting. It’s a network trying things and doing things just a bit differently from other networks. Whether it’s leaning into genre fare, picking up quirky dramedies, or renewing pretty much its entire schedule in January, it’s a network not afraid to take risks and not tied to the old-school model of networks. Kudos to them for it too, because The CW has some of the best and most interesting television shows on any network. For anyone who has yet to experience the joy of Jane the Virgin or the moral complexity of The 100, get on it. You won’t regret it.

For all my issues with The Flash and Arrow, both are solid hits for the network, and I don’t expect that will change. I think their numbers will be on par with last year. With Jane the Virgin, much as I’d love to hope that new people have discovered it over the summer, I’m guessing its numbers will also stay about the same. I think the people who love it are all in. It’s just a shame there aren’t more of them. With iZombie continuing to get The Flash lead-in, I expect iZombie’s numbers to be steady with last year, perhaps even up a bit as it gets to air in the fall, rather than as a spring replacement. Every year I expect people to get tired of Supernatural, and every year I’m wrong, and since I’m already out on a limb with The Walking Dead’s ratings, I’m going to go with even year-to-year or just slightly down for Supernatural.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a bit of a toss-up. It’s not particularly on-brand for the network anymore, and it’s a musical. I expect the ratings will be below the acceptable range for the CW. The CW doesn’t tend to cancel shows mid-season, but CEG may be an exception. If it’s really, really good, it might turn into a cult hit, which the CW might be able to live with.

I fully expect this to be Reign’s last season, and the move to Fridays probably means The CW agrees with me. It wasn’t doing well on Thursdays, although it did have the misfortune of being up against TGIT. With that said, I predict Reign will quickly fall into 0.3s and 0.2s in the demo and will be done at the end of this season.

Thursdays are probably the most interesting. The Originals and The Vampire Diaries are finally together again, and frankly, I’ve never understood splitting them up in the first place. With that said, both shows have taken a bit of a beating. The Vampire Diaries was in a bit of a ratings freefall last season. For a show that in 2013-2014 was regularly scoring over a 1.0 in the demo, seeing it open up at a 0.9 for the season, fall to as low as a 0.5 in the spring, and only muster a 0.7 for the season finale swan song for its lead actress must have been disheartening. Also, it’s a show that lost its lead actress. Lots of people were over Elena by the time Nina Dobrev exited, but that’s still hard to come back from.  And, look, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. For the network it’s on, TVD provided many years of above-average ratings, but now people are tired and Grey’s Anatomy is on at the same time. It may be time to move on. I expect the ratings to be pretty ugly this year, somewhere around a 0.8 to open and perhaps down to 0.4s by the spring. The Originals has had a similar ratings trajectory, but over a much shorter period of time. When it was on Thursdays at 9 in its first season, it was often over a 1.0 in the demo. After moving it to Mondays last season, it quickly fell to a 0.7 in its opener and moved on throughout the season to a fairly standard 0.5. It might have helped both it and TVD if this pair up had happened last year, but The Originals may be too far gone to help, and the TVD halo is not what it used to be. I expect The Originals to stay in a 0.5 to 0.7 bubble. Not disastrous for the CW, but not great either. I do, however, expect that even if TVD isn’t renewed, The Originals will be for at least one more season. The CW loves to give shows four seasons, and it’s possible a few TVD actors might be convinced to migrate over to The Originals. Either way, The CW is going to be looking to The Flash and Arrow for its 1.0 demos this year, not TVD or The Originals. The CW clearly wants to stay in business with Julie Plec. It may be that the midseason Containment will be the better way to do it.
Across the board, I expect The CW to be slightly down this year. Nothing major, but it doesn’t have a ton of buzzy new shows. The stalwarts and genre fare like Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supernatural are its bread and butter, and I expect them to be all around 0.8s to 1.2s. TVD and The Originals are on a clear downward swing. It’s hard to know what Containment will do when it pops up midseason, although The CW has more success with midseason shows than most networks. The 100 seems to have a built-in audience that will follow it anywhere, but that built in audience is about a 0.5 in the demo. (WHY AREN’T YOU PEOPLE WATCHING THE 100, YOU MONSTERS?!?!)
Compared to the other four networks, I still expect The CW to come in last in the demo, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Fox and NBC start to inch closer to the CW’s final average for the season.

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